Many of us have rituals on Christmas Day and I am no exception. Except my rituals have changed. When I was a child, after Mom woke me up, she, Dad and I had breakfast. Then I was allowed to look in and empty my stockings. Presents under the tree had to wait a bit. Mom, Dad and I headed to church first, often suffering through the pastor’s long, long sermon. Afterwards we walked home.
And then we “attacked” the presents. Previously a few days before, Mom and I had wrapped each other’s presents and Dad’s – with her in the kitchen and me in the dining room and the door between firmly shut. Until she needed more paper or scotch tape. She would give fair warning though so I could cover up the unwrapped presents. But on Christmas Day it was usually me who crawled over to and under the tree for the presents and handed them out. Of course I was doing this to try and figure out what was in the wrapped gifts and looking for that doll or other toy I had asked Santa for. My mother had a habit of hiding any unwrapped toy and bringing it in while we were opening the presents. So I got my doll.
Afterwards we relaxed – sort of. I played with my doll or any other new toy and mother went to prepare the bird for dinner. I say “bird” because it often was not a turkey. Sometimes it was chicken, or a duck, or a goose, but no matter it all tasted good.
Fast forward many, many, many years to now (and also a few years ago). Like my parents before me, I have one child (got to repeat history here, you know), Martin, who is well beyond being a child. So, yesterday he and his girlfriend, Juni, came bearing presents, a bottle of white wine and a container of juice (the latter for Martin as he was driving). I had snacks out on the coffee table and so we dug in to presents and food. At some point I had to get into the kitchen to prepare the bird and put it into the oven. Not a turkey – I’m allergic to turkey – so chicken, along with baked potatoes, yams, and a salad.
We stuffed ourselves so much none of us had room for the apple raspberry crisp I had baked the day before, so I sent some home with Martin and Juni. After they left, I called a friend to wish her a Merry Christmas and thank her for her present, watched a Christmas movie on TV and during the commercials did the dishes.
But I forgot one more present and I didn’t discover it until after midnight. It was hiding under the Christmas tree, or rather under the end table where my tiny fake tree sits. I blame missing it on the cloth bag it is in – burgundy – same colour as the velvet cloth right under that tree. The present is for Juni (note: she had others from me). So this week I will have to restart my Santa Claus sleigh and deliver the present to Juni. Translation: I will take public transit and deliver the present to Juni. And hope no wandering reindeer are running around en route, although obviously Christmas Day we could have used Rudolph and his glowing red nose to find the present. Or maybe not – red is close to burgundy in colour and that mini-tree has all red lights and they didn’t help.
So on this note, I will stop this rambling and wish everybody a happy and peaceful holiday season.
The teenage Only Child with her late mother
My late mother was a stickler for honesty. Unlike Gibbs on the NCIS TV series, who had his 10 rules for living written in a small notebook, Mom’s 10 rules were in her head, perhaps some buried in her subconscious. She couldn’t tolerate lies.
Some of the stories spanning out from this, could get complicated, sometimes funny, and sometimes leaving me at a disadvantage some way – but at least I was doing the right thing.
One that comes to mind is when one of my classmates who I hung around with was messing up in marking math exercises. We were in grade three and the teacher had us pass our exercises to the person sitting in front of us for marking. My friend sat behind me so I got hers to mark. She had some questions wrong and I marked them with an X. When she got the exercise back she changed he X to a tic.
That really ticked me off. But I was too shy then to say anything to the teacher. So I told Mom.
Her solution was for mr to tell the teacher. Mom even offered a 25 cent reward if I did this. I sold my friend out for 25 cents. But, hey, I told the truth.
However, when Mom learned that this same friend and I were cutting through the laneway behind houses and shops to come home from school, she told me I couldn’t do this because it wasn’t safe. But I was more afraid of getting the ire of this friend again, so I followed her like the proverbial Pied Piper, through the alleyway. What the heck. Nothing looked bad. The most menacing thing we saw was a man unloading food from a truck for the IGA store.
When I returned home from school Mom asked, “Did you go through the alley?”
“No,” I replied. And didn’t feel good about it.
Not so with sneaking out the back and dangerous way over to the park the girl gang I hung around with played in. Mom had definitely said I couldn’t take the dangerous route. I was supposed to go the long and boring way along the street and cross the busy street intersection at the lights, then continue walking along the sidewalk to the park.
Nope. I followed the ringleader (my math marker cheating friend) and the others to the end of my street to the dead end street and over to the steep steps down to dangerous, curving and busy Don Mills Road. And this was in the late 1950s before the Don Valley Parkway was built nearby with a major exit from Don Mills Road just a bit north of where we landed on the road. There were no sidewalks there, but if we did continue further south, sidewalks were on the part of Don Mills Road close to the busy intersection. But the shorter back way into the park was before that on the other side of the road. So we waited for a small break in traffic and darted quickly across to the other side. We always made it there safely.
I never told Mom; but she never asked on this one.
Looking back, except for a few of these diversions I told the truth – or more often kept my mouth shut as I was shy.
Fast forward too many years to now in the 21st. century. Not a big truthful world. There are scams, frauds, lies, etc. etc. happening non-stop everywhere. You know who in the States is a master at this. It is hard to think that anyone is honest anymore.
However, I have met some honest people, people who do their best to tell the truth. Which is my policy now, with more complications. For one thing, I am no longer shy and I can be blunt and sarcastic when truthful. Sometimes words seem to come out of my mouth without my mind connecting first. This ties in with my sense of justice versus injustice and people being inconsiderate and doing the wrong thing, often making the situation unsafe. For example if I see someone acting badly, I often just chastise them…in public.
One of my biggest peeves is people who block the subway stairs just so they can stand there and muck around with their digital device. They stand at the top of the stairs. They stand at the bottom of the stairs; and they stand partway down (or up?) the stairs, oblivious of anyone going up or down the stairs.
So, there I come, senior citizen with bad feet and a bad left eye. I’m hanging onto the railing and carefully looking down at the steps and what is or isn’t ahead.
“You’re blocking the way,” I say to the person in front of me. Are his feet glued to the step?
He turns around and we get into a heated discussion.
“I’m a senior and I have to hang onto the railing and not have to go around anyone,” I say.
“There is another railing over there.” He points to the other side of the steps.
“Yes, but that is for people coming up the stairs to hang onto.”
And so it goes back and forth a bit. But he does move out of the way. (I can be persistent as well as honest and blunt). Afterwards I wonder what would happen to him or others who do the same in rush hour when people are zooming up and down the stairs and assume everyone else is doing the same. What if someone accidentally pushed against the digital device fanatic and the person fell? Seems like a hard lesson to learn for being stupid and inconsiderate.
So, I don’t feel bad about being honest telling these digital menaces off.
But I try to use another of my mom’s characteristics, one she may have had difficulty using – being diplomatic. You can’t always be bluntly honest. Sometimes using some diplomacy and tact can go a long way.
I am also working on going up to people I see doing some good and complimenting them. For example, when I was at the CNE in August, the young woman (probably a student doing a summer job) who was cleaning the Ladies Room was doing an excellent job and going about it quietly without getting in anybody’s way. When she was cleaning the sinks, I walked up to her.
“Excuse me,” I said.
She turned around and looked at me.
“You’re doing a good job,” I said. “I know it must be tiresome.”
“Thank you,” she said.
Honesty has many ways to present. Unfortunately so does dishonesty.
What do you think?
Only Child Writes
Only Child and Mom mid 1960s
My late mother had a saying – “you can’t win no how.” Which sounds negative, but when you look at how people’s lives pan out, Mom maybe had a point. Especially as her life was cut short by a brain aneurysm at age 63. She was also somewhat crippled by arthritis and scleroderma. All this happened after my dad died of cancer at 66.
Perhaps I should consider her somewhat lucky that she didn’t live longer to have to deal with more bad things happening in her life. At the time of her death she and I shared an apartment. However, I was engaged and the wedding ceremony and reception were already booked – the latter by Mom herself. She was scared to live alone and pondered whether she should spend six months (late spring to early fall) annually at her younger sister’s on the farm. Maybe not a good choice as Mom fell on the doorstep outside my aunt’s farmhouse. This was a new house and these entrance steps numbered two. It was the damn arthritis.
The damn arthritis really was what killed her. It made her fall off the vanity dresser chair (in her bedroom) onto the wooden floor and bang her head. She got headaches but thought they were because of her eyes – maybe new glasses – and she had an ophthalmologist’s appointment in mid-September.
She went into a coma overnight the end of July and had to be rushed to the hospital. Despite surgery, she never woke up and died five days later.
When I look at my life compared to hers, I begin to wonder. First, about her saying “You can’t win no how.”
I certainly am not going through my senior years without a fight despite my health issues of diminishing eyesight in my left eye and getting worse, a digestive disorder, living on low income, and having to deal with more problems than well – let’s just say that the phrase about God not giving anyone any more crosses than they can bear is a myth.
As a child, I was meek, mild and shy and didn’t really get my courage legs until in my 30s. My writing and being a single parent then forced me to change. It grew gradually. But I have one trait ,which I think comes from my Dad – I am a stubborn senior and God or somebody help those who make my life miserable. On the other hand those who are good to me and help and treat me well, I try to do the same for and to them. “Do onto others as they do onto you” is more my saying than “you can’t win no how.”
Perhaps besides the stubborneess, my saving graces are my writing, my garden, my son and his girlfriend, my cousins, close friends, reading (despite the bad eye) and even watching favourite TV shows, and walking. A keen interest in life and a desire to see justice done doesn’t hurt either.
Now, if I could just find time to get to bed early enough to get enough sleep…
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
What is your story – along these lines?
Only Child Writes
My son, Martin, me, and Juni by my garden
Children can be more resilient and creative than adults think or maybe even the child herself. When my dad had cancer it was devastating. I was almost 10 years old when the first cancer episode happened – Daddy was diagnosed with cancer in one of his lungs. An operation to remove half the lung was supposed to stop the cancer.
It did in the lung. Two years later it had spread to his brain. He had horrible continuous headaches and was constantly vomiting. In those days (early 1960s) the only other cancer “treatment” was burn, i.e., radiation. And so my Dad back in the hospital had radiation on his brain. He wasn’t expected to live. Mom and I grew closer and one of her older sisters came to stay to “help” us out. She meant well, but wasn’t the best help to be around. However, after some weeks the radiation seemed to work and Daddy returned home. My aunt also returned to her home. Now Mom and I had to get used to Daddy being back home and back to work and get back into the routine.
It was then that I got the idea to teach Mom to play the piano. But I never connected it to dealing with Dad and his cancer until a few years ago. So I wrote a story about this called “Don’t Look Down”. After rewriting and rewriting and after a few rejections from submitting it and more rewriting and rewriting, I submitted it again last year to The Smart Set, an online only magazine published by Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It was published January 17, 2019 (and for writers reading this post, yes I did get paid. The copyright also now reverts to me at this time, as long as I state where it was first published and when, which I just did).
The story begins like this:
“Don’t Look Down
Coping and communicating through music
There we sat, Mom and I, side by side on the piano bench. A mirror on the panel above the keyboard reflected our fingers, perched to perform. Deadly piano-playing duo? Not quite. You see, I had decided to teach Mom to play the piano. She was in her mid-50s; I was 13.
Perhaps a grade eight history-teaching project had infected me with the teaching bug. More likely it was connected to Dad’s second bout with cancer. At the hospital, the radiation had zapped his tumor. Now he was back home and had returned to work, but Mom and I were left with the aftermath of his life/death ordeal. We needed a diversion to keep us sane in this sudden change to supposedly safe routine. Besides, my music credentials were impeccable — five years of learning Bach, Beethoven, and Chopin on our pink Roxatone-coated piano.”
When you were a child did you use your creativity to cope with a horrific experience?
Still have the piano today. It really is pink.
Only Child Writes
When I was a child, my mom and I would play a mild form of roulette to catch the bus. Our street was halfway between two stops so we would walk the very short half block to the main drag, look both ways, and decide which bus stop to go to. Sometimes we could actually see the bus coming and sometimes we couldn’t. But there was always the chance the bus would show up as we walked (or ran) to either stop.
Fast forward to today. Bus schedules for each route are shown on the TTC website. Any “alerts” as the TTC calls schedule interruptions or changes are posted and continually updated. Those with smart phones can get an app so they can get up-to-date bus arrival times. A few bus stops have digital information with arrival times for the next two buses. Subway station bus levels have electronic times posted that change to match the actual bus schedules.
So all should be working well – even when buses are delayed for some reason. AND WE BUS RIDERS SHOULD KNOW ALL THIS BECAUSE THE INFORMATION IS ACCURATE.
Here’s my experience… or some of it.
From where I now live I can take four different bus lines – two stop at the stop near my home and all four stop a long block away. Usually I check online before I leave to see what’s what with the schedules and any alerts including construction nonsense.
Might as well save my time and eyesight, though because…
The Woodbine bus does run to schedule – its own schedule which seems to be timed about halfway between the actual schedule posted online..
The O’Connor bus – well it will take you for a ride (or not). Even on Sundays when there is no construction in the way, the drivers (and in some cases their supervisors) can’t get it right. Last Sunday I was coming home from some grocery shopping – no problem with the subway, but when I landed at the subway station to switch to the bus, it was “fun and games”. The electronic schedule said that one O’Connor bus was now due. I can take either one to get home. So, that was good. A bus did come in right away and stop on the O’Connor side of the bus platforms. But its sign said “Coxwell 22” bus, which means it was going the other way on Coxwell Avenue. So after unloading the passengers, it drove around to the other side of the station where the Coxwell bus picks up passengers (and unloads them too). Furious, I returned to the electronic schedule on the wall. Now the O’Connor C was scheduled to arrive in 14 minutes and the O’Connor A in 18 minutes.
Guess what probably happened. The a****** supervisor probably gave the O’Connor bus driver instructions to switch to the Coxwell south route because of the bridge work there and a festival being held by the Lakeshore. Meantime the Coxwell buses were arriving okay and people got those buses. So what was the problem?
The O’Connor buses? The C was late and arrived a couple of minutes before the A. I boarded the A. Both buses took off right away from the station like a herd of elephants was after them. (Maybe that should have happened earlier). As the A bus beetled out of the station, another A bus was entering. My A bus was right behind the C bus, until the C turned down one street.
This is a regular occurrence. So is the change of drivers’ nonsense. I don’t know if the drivers themselves are arranging to switch at stops partway along the route instead of the subway stations (or wherever the end of the line is) like they should – just for their convenience, or some you-know-what supervisor in his or her “wisdom” is telling them to do so. But it is annoying to have the driver suddenly grab his bag and leave the bus – often with not telling us why – because his shift is over. Sometimes his replacement driver doesn’t arrive for some time.
I have sent in complaints to the TTC before on these shenanigans, but is anybody doing anything about it?
It would appear not.
I have a courtesy rule. When I get off a bus, I say “thank you” to the driver. But not when they are late or do the driver switcheroo mid-route – especially if it is after dark.
Too bad I can’t afford a cab or Uber.
Will I be forced to hitch-hike?
As for my late Mom – she is probably rolling around in her grave. Or her spirit is frowning. She definitely is not laughing.
Anybody have similar experiences with public transit where you live.
Let’s share stories.
Only Child Writes
When I was growing up, dinnertime for Mom, Dad and me was sitting around the table in our small kitchen. Mom and Dad would sometimes be talking about the household budget while little ears lapped it up as well as the food – often leftover roast. But Dad had one habit that drove Mom crazy.
He looked at his watch, then up at the wall clock above the table, then back to his watch, lifting up the expansion band. I expected it to go “boing, boing,” but it was silent.
“Albert, do you have to keep doing that?” she would ask.
“Have to take it in to get regulated,” Dad replied. He had good reason for this.
You see, my late father worked for the railway, CN (or CNR as it was called back in the 50s and 60s). He was a timekeeper but he worked in the head office, then in downtown Toronto. As far as I know he wasn’t out on the tracks timing the trains. But who knows. The trains came in right by his office at Toronto’s Union Station.
Only Child loves train travel although engines aren’t steam anymore
He carried this penchant for time when the three of us rode the rails travelling in the summer. It was a free ride, and not just for Dad. Mother had the spouse’s free pass and until I turned 19 I had the child of the CN worker’s pass. Mom got unlimited free rides; I was limited to seven a year. But we never took more than three or four trips a year – and one would be not really a holiday. There were a lot of funerals in my family and a few weddings.
But that’s for another post. Today’s post is all about Dad and time. When we rode the rails, Dad made sure we arrived at Union Station early – sometimes two hours before train time. Did Dad think we would miss the train? No. He was just doing his job outside his job. No one missed his scrutiny – from the cab driver who drove us to Union Station – via a different route than Dad had dictated to who carried our luggage (not the red cap porter) to the trainman who collected our tickets once we had boarded the train. Dad’s favourite expression was “Typical CNR” which could be taken as either a bad review or I suppose even a small compliment. At any rate Dad and his watch kept close company.
But riding the rails had its fun, interesting and now looking back – nostalgic times. Nothing like the murder and other crimes that occur on the train to Hanover in my short story “Porcelain Doll” (Beyond theTripping Point, Blue Denim Press, 2012).
Consider the times we were travelling in – mid to late 1950s and early 1960s. Right when train travel in Ontario was still in its heyday – although not for much longer with the almighty automobile starting to take over. (Note: my parents didn’t drive so we had no car).
Our main annual trip was to visit the farm relatives on my mother’s side of the family. That took us to Mildmay Ontario (a few miles from Walkerton, the town that had the bad water scandal in 2000), and Lucknow, Ontario. Then we had to take three trains, which meant two changes. But what rides and what differences. The trains from Toronto to Guelph had diesel engines. The one from Guelph to Palmerston still had a steam engine whose noise used to scare me and my constant travelling companion, my doll Darlene. Guelph was also an interesting ride through. As that second train started out from Guelph, looking out the windows you could see the train was running on a track right in the middle of a street. It is still that setup today (although the trains are more modern) and it still makes me hold my breath when travelling through. The third train, with its short ride from Palmeston to Mildmay, was the most interesting. The “coach” we rode in was actually a sleeper car and Daddy would go into a short talk on the closed dark wooden bins above which came down and turned the area into a bedroom. I also remember the texture of the seats – they itched the back of my bare legs.
Only Child at 13 with Mom and Dad at the Lucknow farm
Dad has been long gone (he died of brain cancer, at 66. I was 16). However, I have inherited his penchant for time. I must get what is on my daily to-do list done that day and God help anyone or anything who interferes (Telemareters and long-winded acquaintances on the phone pay attention). But I also go after transit that is not on time, but not the CN, or VIA rail which has taken over the railway passenger service in most of Canada. No, it’s the city public transit, the TTC (Toronto Transit Commission) which more times than naught, messes up on its schedules. So I sometimes complain online about the incident. Couldn’t do that back in the day.
Guess I do have my father to thank for to be aware of time. And in line with that, on this upcoming Father’s Day I will honour my late father by thinking of him and toasting him – not with his favourite drink – beer, which I don’t really like – but wine. It’s the thought that counts. I’m sure Daddy would understand.Happy Father’s Day Daddy (wherever your spirit is), from your little railway brat.
How are you honouring your Dad this Father’s Day?
Only Child Writes